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Rokudenashiko, Ali Asgar, and Mohsen Namjoo. These are three artists, with three different disciplines, from three different countries, but all are in danger for their work. Copyright: ARC

New press releases about artistic freedom

Cuba's Decree 349 Poses Expansive Restrictions on Artistic Freedom, PEN America and Artists at Risk Connection whitepaper warns

March 4th, 2019

NEW YORK—Sounding the alarm on the Cuban government’s grave new policy with potentially catastrophic effects for independent artists, PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) issued Art Under Pressure: Decree 349 Restricts Creative Freedom in Cuba today. Released in the wake of Cuba’s February 24 referendum that recognized private property, but enshrined one-party rule, and a month before the Havana Biennial Art Exhibition, Art Under Pressure examines the government’s efforts to institutionalize and expand limits on creative expression by criminalizing unregistered artistic labor, authorizing censorship, and empowering a new class of state inspectors to regulate creative expression.

“While Cuba’s vibrant artistic and cultural scene is known all over the world, so is the country’s reputation for censoring and retribution for artists who dare to challenge government orthodoxy,” said Julie Trébault, Director of the Artists at Risk Connection. “The provisions of Decree 349 are not unfamiliar to artists who have been forced to work with the state looming over their shoulders, but this glaring attempt to formalize and tighten decades-old censorship practices forcefully rebuts the notion that Cuba is opening up.

Read the Cuba whitepaper here.

Via Twitter

PEN America Celebrates Release of Turkish Artist, Writer Zehra Doğan

February 25, 2019

NEW YORK— PEN America is celebrating the release of Turkish painter, journalist and feminist activist Zehra Doğan, who was released on February 24 after spending the past 600 days in jail after Turkish courts deemed her journalistic and artistic work to be “terrorist propaganda.”

“We are delighted that Zehra has been released and reunited with family and friends after her unjust imprisonment, which was an appalling affront to free expression,” said Julie Trébault, Director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Art should never be a crime. Doğan is a model of courage for all journalists and artists for standing up against injustice and silence, especially because of her determination to work and create while incarcerated. Many other journalists in Turkey remain behind bars. As we celebrate Zehra’s release, we call for the release of all other Turkish journalists, artists, and activists who are in prison for their journalism or their expression.”

Read more here.

copyright racines 2019

Dissolution of NGO Racines an Unacceptable Violation of Cultural Rights in Morocco

January 22, 2019
NEW YORK—The dissolution of Morocco cultural group Racines by the Ministry of Interior is an unacceptable violation of cultural rights and democratic principles. “Racines’ sudden dissolution is an unwarranted and unjust attack on a vitally important cultural organization,” said Julie Trebault, PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) Director. “It is inherent in the work of cultural organizations to facilitate dialogue on issues of importance to society….We call on the Moroccan authorities to permit Racines to continue to operate freely and without constraint.”

Read more here.

Disappearance of Photographer Lu Guang a Troubling Attack on Artistic Freedom in China

December 14, 2018
NEW YORK—The disappearance and reported detention of award-winning Chinese photojournalist Lu Guang is a troubling attack on artistic and journalistic freedom. “Unfortunately, Lu’s case is not unique. The Chinese government has a history of disappearing artists who use their practices as a platform to challenge and critique the regime’s policies”, said Julie Trébault, Director of PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection.

Read more here.

Arrest of 11 Cuban Artists an Intolerable Affront to Free Expression

December 5, 2018
NEW YORK—The repeated arrest of 11 Cuban artists, all of whom are active members of a campaign against Decree 349, a new law aimed at restricting independent art and culture, is an intolerable affront to free expression. “This repression is not new, but represents a continuation of the Cuban Ministry of Culture’s policy to intimidate and censor critical and independent artistic voices," said Julie Trébault, Director of the Artists at Risk Connection at PEN America. 

Read more here.

Chinese Authorities Razing Ai Weiwei’s Studio Part of Larger Attack on Artistic Expression

August 7, 2018 
NEW YORK—The unannounced demolition of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s studio in Beijing is symptomatic of a larger attack on human rights and artistic expression in China. Ai was not notified about the demolition; several of his works were damaged in the studio’s demolition. “Around the world, artist studios and communes are spaces to be cherished, not discarded”, said Julie Trébault, Director of PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection. 

Read more here.

The Arrest of Shahidul Alam, Bangladeshi Writer, Photographer, Activist, An Intolerable Affront to Free Expression

August 6, 2018

NEW YORK– The arrest of award-winning Bangladeshi writer, photographer and activist Shahidul Alam for comments regarding recent student protests in the country is an intolerable affront to free expression. “As a photographer, Alam documents the truth so it may be shared with the world; his work and his voice matter now more than ever, and any attempt to punish him for voicing his opinion represents an unacceptable attack on the free speech of a world-renowned artist and activist,” said Julie Trébault, Director of the Artists at Risk Connection at PEN America. 

Read more here.

Three-Year Prison Sentence for Poet Galal El-Behairy is Another Blow for Freedom of Expression in Egypt

July 31, 2018
Poet and lyricist Galal El-Behairy was sentenced to 3 years in prison for his lyrics to the song Balaha, released by exiled musician and activist Ramy Essam, and for his latest book of poetry, The Finest Women on Earth. On May 8, 2018, PEN America joined several PEN Centers, the Perpetuum Mobile Artists at Risk program, Safemuse, and Freemuse in signing an open letter demanding that the Egyptian government drop all charges against El-Behairy and protect the right to freedom of expression in Egypt.

Read more here.

Sentencing of Chinese Political Cartoonist Jiang Yefei and Activist Dong Guangping is the Unjust Result of an Unjust Process

July 27, 2018
NEW YORK—The sentencing of Chinese political cartoonist Jiang Yefei to six-and-a-half years in jail under national security charges is the latest and most serious injustice visited against a person targeted for their political and artistic speech. “Jiang should never have been charged with a crime, he should never have been repatriated against his will, he should never have spent a day in custody, and he should never have been convicted. The same goes for activist Dong Guangping, another political dissident who was forced to return to China to stand trial on absurd charges even after being granted refugee status”, said Summer Lopez, PEN America Senior Director for Free Expression Programs. 

Read more here.

Cartoonist Ramón Esono Ebalé Freed from Prison in Equatorial Guinea

March 7, 2018

NAIROBI/ NEW YORK—An Equatorial Guinean court on March 7, 2018, released an artist imprisoned on dubious charges for nearly six months, 18 human rights groups including PEN America said today. The prosecution dropped all charges against Ramón Esono Ebalé, a cartoonist whose work is often critical of the government, at his February 27 trial after the police officer who had accused him of counterfeiting $1,800 of local currency admitted making the accusation based on orders from his superiors.

Read more here.

Threat of Prison Sentence for Two Turkish Filmmakers Marks Another Blow to Free Expression in Turkey

February 8, 2018
NEW YORK — The arrest and trial of filmmakers Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, accused of producing propaganda, is a violation of their free expression and artistic rights and yet another example of the Turkish government’s desire to subvert the judicial process, PEN America said in a statement.

Read more here.

Fordham University Welcomes Writer at Risk in Residence Kanchana Ugbabe with PEN America and Artists at Risk Connection

November 21, 2017
NEW YORK—The Fordham Department of English has welcomed a new colleague, Kanchana Ugbabe of Nigeria, to serve in the newly created position of Writer at Risk in Residence for one year beginning this fall. The pilot position was made possible through the efforts of the Creative Writing program in partnership with Westbeth Artists Housing,, Residency Unlimited, PEN America, and ARC. The residency is the second effort of the New York City Safe Haven Prototype, a multi-organizational artist residency program designed to house, integrate, and nurture artists at risk.

Read more here.

More than 1,000 Attacks on Artists Worldwide in 2016 Highlight Growing Need for Resources and Support

October 10, 2017
NEW YORK—PEN America announced today the launch of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), an online collaboration of more than 500 global organizations that provide life-saving resources to artists worldwide who face oppression, persecution, arrest, and violence for their creative work.

Recent reported threats against New York’s Guggenheim Museum, the cancellation of a major planned work from the Louvre in Paris, and the withdrawal of a major film from Russian theatres offer stark reminders of the hotly contested terrain that artists occupy. There were more than a thousand attacks on artists in 2016, according to the Copenhagen-based Freemuse—more than double the prior year. While hundreds of organizations offer assistance to imperiled artists, ARC is a first-of-its-kind platform bringing all of these resources together in a single online hub, accessible in 104 languages.

“Artist face backlash when they push up against intellectual, social, and ideological boundaries,” said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN America. “While global campaigns and U.N. resolutions have been mounted to protect journalists and human rights defenders, threats to artists have gotten limited international attention. The Artist at Risk Connection brings together an extraordinary network of global organizations committed to augmenting the assistance available to artists who risk their freedom and their lives in the name of creative expression.” 

Read the full press release

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